From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"We are all hysterics, since Charcot, that grand priest of hysterics, that breeder of chamber hysterics, maintains in his model establishment the Salpêtrière at great expense a number of nervous women among whom he inoculates madness and of whom he makes demoniacs in no time. One needs to be very ordinary, very common, very reasonable to not be classed among hysterics." --"Une femme" (1882) by Guy de Maupassant
Jean-Martin Charcot (1825 – 1893) was a French neurologist and professor of anatomical pathology. His work greatly impacted the developing fields of neurology and psychology. He was nicknamed "the Napoleon of the neuroses". Charcot is best known today, outside the community of neurologists, for his work on hypnosis and hysteria. He is famously depicted in the painting A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière.
Life and Work
Born in Paris, Charcot worked and taught at the famous Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital for thirty three years. His reputation as an instructor drew students from all over Europe. In 1882, he established a neurology clinic at Salpêtrière, which was the first of its kind in Europe.
Charcot's primary focus was neurology. He was the first to name and describe multiple sclerosis. He was also the first to describe a disorder known as Charcot joint or Charcot arthropathy, a degeneration of joint surfaces resulting from loss of proprioception. He researched the functions of different parts of the brain and the role of arteries in cerebral hemorrhage.
He was also one of the first to describe Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT). The announcement was made simultaneously with Pierre Marie of France (his resident) and Howard Henry Tooth of England. The disease is also sometimes called peroneal muscular atrophy.
But Charcot's most enduring work is that on hypnosis and hysteria. Charcot believed that hysteria was a neurological disorder caused by hereditary problems in the nervous system. He used hypnosis to induce a state of hysteria in patients and studied the results, and was single-handedly responsible for changing the French medical community's opinion about the validity of hypnosis (it was previously rejected as Mesmerism).
His works about hypnosis and his public demonstrations of "hypnotized" persons in an auditorium were sharply criticized by Hippolyte Bernheim, a leading neurologist of the time, and by Charcot's former scientific assistant Axel Munthe in his famous memoirs The Story of San Michele.
Charcot is just as famous for his students: Sigmund Freud, Joseph Babinski, Pierre Janet, Albert Londe, Georges Gilles de la Tourette, and Alfred Binet. Charcot bestowed the eponym for Tourette syndrome in honor of his student, Georges Gilles de la Tourette.
- Les Difformes et les malades dans l'art (1889) by Jean-Martin Charcot and Paul Richer
- Les démoniaques dans l'art (1887) by Jean-Martin Charcot and Paul Richer